Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Museum Pizza

Last weekend I had a great opportunity to do research for Sister Soul. The LACMA had an exhibit on samurai armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.

I'm not a good photographer, but here:

Many of these outfits weren't suited for war, but in the Edo Period (when part of my book takes place), the samurai weren't exactly fighting all the time. Most of them were busy making elaborate armor. And, apparently, Edo period armor was so beautiful that when armor from earlier periods is restored, the restorers often draw from Edo aesthetics, making useful armor less more brightly colored.

Prof. Luke Roberts from UC Santa Barbara gave a lecture about samurai lifestyles during the Edo Period, and that was very helpful as well. He is currently translating two sets of diaries from two samurai, and that will make for excellent reading when the projects are done, I'm sure.

Roberts is also translating some journals from samurai women, which will be particularly helpful for my book. So, please hurry, Dr. Roberts! He mentions that the calligraphy style and subject matter that the women use is so different from the men that he is having to learn it as if if were a whole new language.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blue Apples and Spring Beans

I'm going on week 22 of my Japanese lessons, and we've been learning about colors. In Japanese, common color terms fall into two grammar categories.

One group, which includes red (aka) and blue (ao), acts like adjectives.

The red kimono.

The blue tea kettle.

The other group, which includes green (midori), pink (pinku), and orange (oranji), acts like nouns.

The kimono has orangeness, for example, though this is a bad translation.

As I was annoying my teacher with various philosophical questions about how the Japanese people might be categorizing these different color groups in their minds, someone volunteered that, in Chinese, green and blue were once both considered "blue."

In other words, people once saw the variation between green and blue to be smaller and not necessarily worth differentiating. Like the spectrum of musical sounds being broken into notes, we have used labels to categorize colors, and it's interesting how these categories have changed, and perhaps gotten more specific. The way the history of our perception is captured in language is fascinating too.

What's Peanut eating? Cucumbers.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lunch dessert

Are you a fan of Frank O'Hara?

Or, are you a fan of poetry?

Or, are you a fan of interesting writing?

Or, do you have or have you ever used an electric fan?

Or a paper fan?

Or has anyone you know every used a fan?

Then you should check out a new book of poetry by Craig Cotter: After Lunch with Frank O'Hara.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Horsemeat on a shelf

Master Chef Scott G.F. Bailey tagged me on a blogger hop-skippity, and because I have not posted this month, I will hop along!

What am I working on? The majority of my writing time lately is spent on a fantasy novel for teens call Sister Soul that is based on the lives of my 4th generation Japanese-American sister-in-law and her sister. Both of these women are big readers and constantly talk about how much they wish they had magic powers. So, I'm giving them powers in fictional form. I'm also including a couple of other characters who I've always wanted to include in a story. I'm about a third of the way through the third draft, and have about 50k words. I'm hoping to get a polished draft done by Christmas to give to them as gifts. They would like me so much if that worked out.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? I'll talk about my writing in general. I think I tend to be more spare than other American writers. I'm often inspired by (translated) Japanese literature and Tolstoy. Also, not being a fan of plot maps, my work probably feels more flat and meandering than your average story. In a way my novels are more like a series of episodes instead of one big story. I also try to be very sensitive to emotion.

Why do I create what I do?  I think it's mostly greed. For the same reasons I sing along to songs, I think I want to participate in the act of art that gets me excited, and I want to be able to own art and have it on my shelf. Ideally, the art I make will be the art that entertains me most.

How does my creative process work? I constantly get ideas for things that I think are interesting, such as a world where the characters are all named after race horses or a character who is able to draw out negative emotions from people she is near. Or a man who volunteers to be eaten. Those little ideas accumulate, usually with no concept of story, beginning, middle, or end. Eventually, I'll have a handful of them and will force them to play together in an attempt at a novel--again with no concept of story, beginning, middle, or end. I'll just start writing and see what takes shape. I'm not saying this is a good idea. It's just how I work.

Can I just tag Michelle again, since she's already been tagged?

What's Peanut eating? Duck jerky and cucumber.

His nose is a little wet from having just had some water

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chocolate Lava Cake

Every once in a while I'll read a piece of fiction and recognize in it a writer's technique that I didn't (couldn't?) recognize before.

Recently, I decided to read through a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov, mostly due to this guy, and pay more attention to what makes Chekhov so influential.

As I read, I asked myself what made him different from other writers I admired and how his stories were different from my own. Several characteristics came up, including his impressively large portfolio of well-rendered and diverse characters and his wide range of endings with different emotional impacts and twists.

Another thing I noticed was how much character information Chekhov puts up front. In the last couple of days, I've read about a dozen of his stories, and in all of them the opening paragraphs are almost entirely focused on characterization. Many of the stories start with a character's name and go on to describe who he or she is. The stories may well start in the middle of action, but Chekhov slows the action down to get all of this information in.

This technique accomplishes a few things.

First, I think this creates more excitement for readers, as they have more information on which to see potential outcomes. They have more data and can guess at the results. I think this engages their imaginations and can create a different form of suspence.

Second, I think readers may have more of an emotional investment in the character because they know the character. It's the difference between seeing a friend versus a stranger getting hit by a car.

Third, this technique creates something that I think of as momentum. The confrontation of character to conflict is presented up front, and now the rest of the story just has to unfold. This is different from a situation where the character is still being revealed, in which case the journey of the story is a combination of both information gathering and outcome. When a character is slowly revealed, the tension comes in the form of questions about the character. When the character is revealed more quickly, the tension comes in the form of "How does life unfold?"

I don't know yet if I like this style of writing more than other styles, but it's an intriguing one. And I think I'll be rewriting some of my stories with this in mind to see how that changes the reading experience.

What's Peanut eating? Salmon and carrots.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Re-re-re-fried Azuki Beans

One of the sections I still need to drastically improve for Sister Soul involves an adventure in feudal Japan with the shugo daimyo Akifumi Katamori and a still unnamed ninja--I'm considering "Goro" or "Daisuke." The main characters will have to navigate their way from the Samurai culture to the ninja culture, and trying to figure out that pathway has been a challenge, to put it mildly. Warrior rules of conduct haven't been a big component of my beginning Japanese class. (Although I now know all of my Katakana and Hiragana!)

But, instead of being bogged down in logistics, I decided to just write the opening scenes of that section from the point of view of someone telling a story, introducing characters, describing the place, setting the stage. That helped me to make some good progress, and I hope it continues.

Meanwhile, our alien green castle has started to produce a bounty of crops. We've had tomatoes (cherry and heirloom), basil, and all sorts of green leaves, along with the beginnings of what we hope to be cucumbers, soybeans, corn, and other such. 

Our urban farming neighbor also gave us fresh chicken, duck, and quail eggs that look like magical stones.

I'm so ready for the zombie apocalypse, you have no idea.

What's Peanut eating? Bison.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
                                           -Maya Angelou